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Guatemala

Reinforcing strategic human rights litigation

The Guatemala program supports the development of a group of lawyers specialized in human rights, allowing victims and civil society organizations to be effectively represented before national and international tribunals. The objective is to permit emblematic cases of human rights violations to be brought before the courts, so that a body of jurisprudence may be created which, in turn, will contribute to put an end to impunity.

Context

Despite the signing of the Peace Accords in 1996, Guatemala is officially one of the most violent countries in the world that is not at war, with a rate of 48 homicides per 100 000 inhabitants.

This violence impacts the vast majority of the Guatemalan population, affecting, in particular, human rights defenders whose situation is truly alarming. In 2007, 30% of these attacks were directed at human rights defenders working for justice and access to the truth. Apart from physical attacks, human rights defenders are also accused of crimes like terrorism, acting against national security, and theft. In general, there is a shortage of lawyers who are specially trained in human rights matters and who are able to represent victims and the organizations that act for them, or to defend the accused, in court.

Civil society organizations, who spearhead most emblematic cases of massive human rights’ violations (strategic human rights litigation), lament this situation. This is particularly troubling when one takes into account that strategic human rights litigation is at the centre of Guatemala’s legal and political life.

Unfortunately, in many cases, these problems of access to justice keep vulnerable groups who have been victims of injustice, like indigenous communities, women and the poor, from asserting their rights. They also impede the creation of the jurisprudence necessary to fight against impunity for human rights violations committed during the internal armed conflict as well as those committed in the current context of organized crime.
 

Goals

The program’s goal is to strengthen access by civil society organizations and vulnerable groups, particularly victims, to qualified legal representation in strategic human rights litigation.

Through the strengthening of access to legal representation, it is hoped that some emblematic cases of human rights violations will be able to be brought before the courts, in turn leading to the creation of jurisprudence which will help to reduce impunity for current and past human rights violations, such as those perpetrated during the internal armed conflict.

In order to achieve this primary goal, LWBC works to achieve the following results:

  • Develop a Guatemalan law firm specialized in strategic human rights litigation;
  • Increase the capacity of civil society organizations to take legal action in order to advance strategic litigation;
  • Document and share national and international best practices in terms of strategic litigation;
  • Foster the creation of an association of Guatemalan human rights lawyers so that they may be better equipped, share their experience in terms of strategic litigation and exercise their profession freely and more safely.
Achievements

Provision of financial, material and technical support for the establishment, installation, development and functioning of the Guatemalan Human Rights Law Office (Bufete jurídico de derechos humanos en Guatemala). The program allows some of the lawyers of this office to devote themselves full-time to the defense and accompaniment of victims and vulnerable groups, on a pro bono basis;

The deployment to Guatemala of volunteer cooperant lawyers and law students to support and strengthen the work of the Guatemalan Human Rights Law Office Firm and partner civil society organizations. Examples of this support include working on legal arguments on topics such as genocide, the intellectual authorship of grave crimes and forced disappearance;

The creation of a strategic litigation fund of over 300 000$ for legal support to civil society organizations; a fund which enables activities and offers legal tools and resources essential for the advancement of human rights violation cases (factual investigations, meetings and seminars with victims, preparation of testimonies and expert reports, international exchanges of expertise, public information tools, payment of court, lawyer or transportation fees for hearings in national and international courts, building and redevelopment of offices);

Accompaniment of civil society organizations in particular human rights cases, for example in the case of the massacre of the community of Dos Erres;

Implementation of an internship program within the Guatemalan Human Rights Law Office for law students from Guatemala City’s Landívar University;

Launching of a program of training seminars for lawyers and members of civil society on topics such as international and human rights law principles;

Creation of a committee of about fifteen Canadian volunteers for the program of accompaniment of emblematic strategic litigation cases in Guatemala.

Partners

The project’s main partner is the Guatemalan Human Rights Law Office (Bufete jurídico de derechos humanos en Guatemala).

The project also supports the legal initiatives of the:

 

All of whom are among the most reputable human rights organizations in Guatemala.

The implementation of this project is made possible thanks to the financial support of Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Stabilization and Reconstruction Task Force (START).

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